MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- The Republican candidates have sharp disagreements over a new policy to detain American citizens suspected of terrorism.
President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow indefinite detention of such terror suspects. Many civil liberties activists believe the law is unconstitutional.
Front-runner Mitt Romney said he would have signed the law and insisted it was "appropriate" to detain American members of al-Qaida.
"Yes, I would have," said Romney when asked whether he would have signed the legislation as President Obama did. Members of the crowd -- most likely supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who believes the bill is unconstitutional -- booed him.
"I do believe it is appropriate to have in our nation the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country, who are members of al Qaeda. Look, you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues, but you don't have a right to join a group that has challenged America and has threatened killing Americans, has killed Americans, and has declared war against America. That's treason. In this country we have a right to take those people and put them in jail."
The crowd loudly applauded this response.
Romney then said that while he disagreed with Obama on most matters, he would give him the benefit of the doubt not to abuse the powers in the NDAA.
"I recognize that in a setting where they are enemy combatants and some of them on our own soil, that could be abused," he said. "There are lots of things I think this president does wrong -- lots of them -- but I don't think he will abuse this power, and if I were president I would not abuse this power."
Other members of the crowd again booed Romney.
Rick Santorum said a U.S. citizen who is detained as an enemy combatant should have the right to a lawyer and to appeal their case before a federal court.
Ron Paul said holding American citizens indefinitely is a breach of the U.S. judicial system.
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